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Darren H

Museum Hours (2012)

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I enjoyed Jem Cohen's Museum Hours when I saw it at TIFF in 2012, but it's too quiet and generous a film for that kind of mad festival environment. I didn't see it again until 2017, when Cohen was a guest at Big Ears, the festival I program. I rewatched the film in anticipation of Jem's visit and was so moved by it, I decided to schedule it on Sunday morning as a kind of Big Ears church service. (This year, The Gleaners & I is in that slot.)

If you haven't seen Museum Hours, it's about a working-class Canadian woman (singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O'Hara) who is called to Vienna because she's the only known relative of a woman who is dying in hospital. With no acquaintances in the city and little money, she passes her time at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, where she befriends a docent (Bobby Sommer) who teaches her what he's learned about the art and also shows her some of the city.

I've watched Museum Hours a half-dozen times since 2017. It's one of the few great films about friendship between adults of a certain age. It's also a lovely contemplation of art and grief, and a portrait of Vienna. It will be among my nominees for the Top 100, so I hope you'll find time to watch/revisit it.

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I visited Vienna this past fall, and I specifically sought out the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches museum, which is prominently featured in this film. It's definitely a film worth our collective consideration and attention, although I must admit I found moments of it to be quite didactic and obvious, and not really in a positive way (the lecture scene in particular). But I recall Jeff Overstreet really loving this film too, and it's certainly about both arts and faith in the manner I think we've defined for the Top 100 list.

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I know this kind of argument can be a get-out-jail-free card for critics, but the docent scene is self-consciously didactic, made with non-professional actors who are (poorly) performing their roles. Cohen is using the gallery as a creative space -- both in the mannered style of that scene and in the later scene with the nudes. It all works really well for me, but I'm sympathetic to the criticism.

Edited by Darren H

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I resonate with Peter Labuza's reflections on Letterboxd, but I think I also had a much more positive experience with the film than he did, and I think Cohen is up to something more complex than merely "there's art everywhere if we just pay attention!" It felt like one of those films where I'd need to give it a second viewing to better appreciate what Cohen is doing, and to make sure I'm in the right head/heart space. (E.g. I had a muted response to Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire when I saw it in Cannes, while my second viewing at home totally blew me away. Totally different style/tone than Cohen, but I think the parallel may apply here.)

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Ahem.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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